“A woman tipped by Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, as a future leader of Italy has a few things in common with her champion: Michela Brambilla is an entrepreneur, says just what she thinks and sleeps for only three hours a night.
Although she has yet to fight an election, Brambilla became the focus of feverish speculation in the centre-right opposition after the billionaire Berlusconi, 70, who has a pacemaker, sang her praises last week.
Brambilla, a 39-year-old who owns 24 cats and 12 dogs, has impressed him by setting up a network of politicai clubs.
In an interview this weekend she said she was delighted at his backing. “I do think Italy is ready for a woman prime minister and yes, l’d like the job,” she said.
Talking privately to business leaders on Monday, Berlusconi confided it was “physiologically very improbable” that he would stili be in politics at 75. If Romano Prodi, the centre-left prime minister, lasted more than two years, a new leader of the centre-right would have to be found. “Brambilla is a wonderful person,” he added. “She is a young businesswoman who believes in herself and in what she does, she’s an entrepreneur like you and me.”
Brambilla was already emerging as Berlusconi’s political darling when he chose her in November to launch the Liberty Clubs, a centre-right movement.
She also manages three businesses – one, a steel company, has earned her the nickname of “the Iron Lady” – and heads a 300,000-strong confederation of business leaders as well as a national dog association.
It was her business background that attracted Berlusconi. “He likes people who first have success in business and then go into politics not to make money but to do something for their country,” she said.
Her interest in politics has been fired up by disillusionment with the Prodi administration. Her priorities include cutting taxes, expelling immigrants who are criminals and reducing the wages of Italian MEPs.
Her appeal has been highlighted by a poll of fernale centre-right leaders that she tops with 74°/o. A separate survey commissioned by Berlusconi found voters were impressed by her directness and determination, and saw her as “the exact opposite of old-style politicians”.
Newspapers marvel at her slim figure, short skirts and high heels but she says she has not visited a beauty parlour for 10 years.
“The press make so much of my look because politics have been so male dominated,” she said.
“But in France Ségolène Royal didn’t become a presidential candidate because she is beautiful or because of high heels. And she lost the election because the French didn’t like her politics.”
Brambilla is known across Italy for her colourful domestic life.
She lives near Lake Como with Eros Maggioni, an industrialist, their two-year-old
son Vittorio and a family “zoo” of stray dogs and cats, four horses, two donkeys, seven goats, three hens and 200 pigeons.
But Brambilla may find it harder to win over the men in the centre-right parties.
Several of Berlusconi’s former ministers have expressed support but figures such as Gianfranco Fini, of the former fascist National Alliance party, have their own ambitions.
“Brambilla is very capable and ambitious but she’s up against male politicians who don’t understand that Italy needs women and a change of generation,” said her friend Daniela Santanchè, a National Alliance MP.
“She doesn’t have any political experience, but that’s a good thing because it is very fashionable to be anti-politics.””
Sunday Times, 27/05/07